Offshoring has left Native Americans more exposed to climate threats, data shows
WASHINGTON – Centuries of land loss and forced relocation have left Native Americans much more exposed to the effects of climate change, new data shows, adding to the debate over how to tackle climate change and racial inequality in the United States .
The results, which took seven years to compile and were published Thursday in the journal Science, marks the first time that researchers have been able to quantify on a large scale what Native Americans have long believed to be true: that European settlers, and later the United States government, pushed Indigenous peoples onto marginal lands.
âThe historic dispossession of land is a huge factor contributing to the extreme vulnerability of tribes to climate change,â said Kyle Whyte, one of the study’s authors, a professor at the University of Michigan and a member of the Citizen. Potawatomi Nation.
The new data comes as the United States suffers from increasingly severe heat waves, droughts, wildfires and other disasters made worse by global warming. By showing that government actions made Native Americans more exposed to climate change, the authors say, the data strengthens the case for an attempt to repair this damage, however imperfectly.
âIt’s not just a story of past misdeeds,â said Justin Farrell, a professor at Yale University and another of the study’s authors. âWe need to think about ways to reward this story. “
To measure the effects of forced migration on climate exposure, the authors compiled a database showing the historical territorial bases and land loss of 380 individual tribes, based on data from the tribal nations‘ own records, land cession treaties and other federal records. Most of the data covers the period from the 1500s to the 1800s.
The authors then compared the number of land tribes with the current reserves of each tribe. In total, the land area decreased by 98.9%. In many cases, no comparison was possible: of the 380 tribes they examined, 160 today have no land base recognized by the federal or state government.
But for the remaining 220 tribes, the authors found that their current lands are on average only 2.6% of the size of their historic lands, an average reduction of 83,131 square miles.
In addition to occupying much less land, most of the tribes were pushed away from their historic lands. The average distance between historic and present-day lands was 239 kilometers (149 miles); one tribe, the Kickapoo, traveled 1,366 kilometers (849 miles).
No more extreme hot days
Not only were the tribes pushed onto smaller lands far from their home territory; these lands also have less hospitable climates.
The authors measured exposure to extreme heat by totaling the average annual number of days above 100 degrees Fahrenheit between 1971 and 2000 on each tribe’s current lands, and then doing the same for historic lands.
They found that overall, today’s lands experience two more days of extreme heat each year. But for some tribes the difference is much bigger.
The Mojave tribe, whose current lands are along the Colorado River, experiences an average of 117 days above 100 degrees, 62 more than on their historic lands.
The Hopi Reservation in northeastern Arizona recorded 57 days above 100 degrees on average, compared to just two days on their historic lands, which included higher terrain. The Chemehuevi, along the California-Arizona border, experienced an average of 84 days of extreme heat each year, 29 more days than on their historic lands, which also included higher lands.
More extreme heat means higher electricity costs, according to Brian McDonald, secretary-treasurer of the Chemehuevi Indian tribe. He said these higher costs are particularly difficult as many residents have low incomes.
The extreme heat increases the incentives for tribe members to leave their reservation and move to cities, where there is more access to air-conditioned spaces and more transportation options to get to these locations. , according to Nikki Cooley, co-manager of Tribes & Climate Change. Program at the University of Northern Arizona.
âIn the past, we would go to the high country, where our summer camps were located. This is where we would calm down, âsaid Ms. Cooley, who is a citizen of the DinÃ© Nation (Navajo). “We don’t have that because all of the high altitude communities are off the reserve.”
“You unplug their umbilical cord”
As the heat drives tribesmen away from their communities, the result is further erosion of Indigenous culture and language, Ms. Cooley said.
âYou disconnect their umbilical cord – their connection to the land and to the elders, who probably won’t move with them to these urban areas,â she said.
The authors examined the difference in other types of climate vulnerability. They found that another change was precipitation: in the 220 tribes, the average annual precipitation was almost a quarter lower on present-day lands than on historic lands.
Among the tribes that receive less rainfall is the Pueblo de Laguna, whose current lands are west of Albuquerque. According to the new data, the average annual precipitation on the tribe’s current land is about half of what its historic land receives.
Members of the tribe include Deb Haaland, whom President Biden named the first Native American to head the Home Office, which is responsible for tribal lands.
Secretary Haaland’s office declined a request for an interview on steps her agency has taken to make tribal nations more resilient against the effects of climate change. .
Representative Teresa Leger FernÃ¡ndez, Democrat of New Mexico and chair of the House Subcommittee on Indigenous Peoples of the United States, praised the infrastructure bill Mr. Biden has pushed, which includes $ 216 million. dollars for climate resilience and adaptation of tribal nations.
More than half of that money, $ 130 million, would go to “community relocation” – helping Native Americans move out of dangerous areas.
âIt’s not enough. But it’s more than we have ever received,â Ms. Leger Fernandez said in an interview. She said the government should look for other options, including helping to transfer more land to tribal nations that previously occupied that land – including land now owned by the federal government, or using federal money to buy private land from willing sellers.
âBe aware and educated about the harsh history of our nation,â Ms. Leger Fernandez said. “I think all of these options are on the table.”
Paul Berne Burow, another of the article’s authors and a doctoral student at Yale, said land restitution should be seen as a form of reparation, but also as a way to make tribal nations more resilient to climate change.
âThere are some really meaningful and deep connections that people need to make,â Mr. Burow said. âReturning dispossessed land is one of the best things that can be done to start addressing these inequalities. “